Almost didn't spot it because of the glare, but Zipangu's sister restaurant recently received a makeover.
Located in Irvine's Orchard Hills Village Center, Ayame first appeared on the scene at the end of 2007. The sushi spin-off was considered a high-end departure from the usual Agran-preferred chain gangs. However, a phone call confirmed the menu update.
Ayame's final day as a sushi bar was on Valentine's Day, before devoting the rest of the week to converting themselves into a destination with more “swish-swish” action.
Reinvention has been one strategy restaurants are using to keep afloat when times are tough. Take, for instance, the revolving door that is now Lazy Dog Cafe off Jamboree, once French 75 Brasserie, then Wilhelm's Chophouse. Most recently, Marc Cohen made the change from Opah to Opah Seafood Grill.
The hot pot menu is three pages of options, and by options, I mean eight different broths; twice as many proteins; and endless combinations of vegetables, noodles, even cheese(?). It even offers a photographic step-by-step tutorial on the correct order in which to cook your food. Appetizers and dessert are available, but the only hints of sushi are limited to California, spicy tuna and crunchy rolls.
Huddled masses are commenting on the tight tabletop space for shabu shabu and tasty tsumire–chicken meatballs, for hot pot novices. Here's hoping it's still around to represent same time next year.
Ayame Shabu Shabu Hot Pot, 3923 Portola Pkwy., Irvine, (714) 544-2800; www.zipanguoc.com/ayahome.html.